What Electing a Sexual Predator Has Felt Like for an Abuse Survivor
Last November, the US elected a man well known for his tendency to view women primarily in terms of their sexual desirability. A man who was recorded boasting about the way his fame allowed him to grab and grope women without their consent and was still elected. I didn’t believe it was possible. But here we are.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I know the feeling of not being in charge of my own body that the man who became president was bragging about exerting. I understand the terror of being in the presence of someone able and willing to overpower me. And I get the feeling of assuming authority figures would either blame or not believe me. While I’m convinced that the parents and grandparents in my life would have actually responded with love and attempts to guard me, it’s important to acknowledge that victims are often portrayed as villains and liars. My reticence to tell was understandable.
And here’s the thing. The current political reality has felt like reliving those experiences of fear and shame. Because as a host of women came forward with stories of unwanted advances similar to the one he himself described, the president accused them of lying, going so far as to say that some were not attractive enough to have tempted him. And just last week, someone connected with his administration implied that most women making accusations about assaults on college campuses were exaggerating. Candice Jackson, currently serving under Betsy Devos, guessed that 90% of rape allegations were actually consensual acts later mischaracterized after ‘bad break-ups.’ While she later apologized for her remarks, the damage is done. Particularly because her statements were in keeping with the well established stance of this administration.
All this has felt like the ‘slut shaming’ that victims of sexual violence and abuse often experience. I’m talking about the implications that what happened to them is their fault because of (fill in the blank): where they were, what they wore, what they ate or drank, the fact that they are women. And girls even don’t have to have hit puberty to be at risk for being characterized as ‘less than innocent’ (especially if they have brown skin). Exacerbating the crazy-making nature of all these messages, it’s often also hinted that while it is the woman’s fault, somehow it is simultaneously not real. That it didn’t really happen or wasn’t all that bad if it did. My favorite childhood sitcom isn’t even safe in this regard anymore. This kind of nastiness is everywhere, it seems.
So here’s what I want to say if you voted for him. Whether you meant to or not, you named his actions acceptable with your vote. I think I understand that many of you were intending to affirm change or resist a broken establishment or convey your hope of a supreme court nomination you’d support and so on. But it felt like you telling me and the millions of women and men who have experienced sexual violence that what happened to us is ok. That the perpetrators such horror can, perhaps even should, be given a pass.
And if you’re a survivor of sexual harassment or rape or abuse, I want you to know that you’re not alone. What happened to us is real. It matters. And yet we are so much more than our most painful moments. Brene Brown believes that speaking shame drains it of its power. I’ve experienced that to be true.
And know this. Every time I tell my story, especially with people who want to understand, I get a little stronger, a little more hopeful, a little more whole. And some who hear get to recognize, maybe for the first time, that healing is possible. We remember together that we are more than our bodies, that secrets won’t stay hidden, and that bullies don’t win in the end. Ms. Jackson, Ms. Devos, and even President Number 45, I hope you’re listening.